GOVERNMENTS and the media are saying that they do not want the destruction of the World Trade Centre to lead to a racist backlash against Muslims. Yet they have contributed to such an atmosphere by virtually equating Islam with irrational violence for more than a decade.
Islam does not equal terror. Like any of the world's major religions it is a body of often contradictory beliefs which are open to very varied interpretation. Look at Christianity. It is the professed belief of 'liberation theologists'-radical priests who fought against class inequality and brutal US-backed dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.
It is also the religion of the Bible belt and the Christian Coalition in the US, which supports naked US power, capitalism and those same dictatorships. There is just such a range of political positions among people who consider themselves Muslim.
The ruling family of the US's closest Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, is Muslim. So are most of the workers and peasants in the Middle East who oppose the US. Islamic fundamentalism is a loaded term used in the West. It refers to a variety of movements which look to versions of Islam to express some of the bitterness of masses of people in predominantly Muslim countries. These are most concentrated in the Middle East. It is not hard to see why. The region sits on the greatest known reserves of the most important commodity to world capitalism, oil.
The rulers of the Gulf states are fabulously wealthy. Yet the mass of people face grinding poverty and oppression. The royal family of Saudi Arabia has built golf courses in the desert along with one of the most brutal regimes of repression to hold down impoverished workers and peasants.
Yet such rulers all sickeningly claim to be pious Muslims representing a community of believers which knows no distinction of class or status. Behind them stands the colossal economic and military power of the US. Nothing has intensified the rage of millions of people in the Middle East more than the unconditional support the US has given Israel in its war against the Palestinians.
Deep suffering is not the sole reason why radical Islamist movements can gain support.
They also gain from feeling that ordinary people cannot bring an end to that suffering. For there have been mass movements in the Middle East before.A wave of nationalist revolts after the Second World War brought independence from colonial empires.
The use of individual terror was marginal to these movements. But their leaders quickly made their peace with the world system and turned their guns on the mass of people to prevent radical social change. The turning point came in September 1970, 'Black September', when Jordanian forces massacred tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Palestinian militants became isolated. Some looked in desperation to individual terrorist acts to sustain the struggle. The 1970s saw the growth of an array of political Islamic movements. Across the Middle East there are now small groups, embittered by US imperialism and corrupt local regimes, but also isolated from mass forces (even though they can win some popular passive support).
They are drawn largely from a social layer which itself is not part of the working class or peasantry. They are often people who have been to university but find that all their education still leaves them with few prospects.
Many went to fight against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, against the Russians in Chechnya, against Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, against the Indian state in Kashmir, and elsewhere. The West turned a blind eye to them until they threatened its interests. Now out of rage they use terrorism to try and hit out at the rulers of the West. But their tactics are as likely to hurt workers as their rulers. And they provide those rulers with an excuse to strengthen their power. They are desperate methods which socialists oppose.
They hurl back a portion of the brutality of the world system in a vain attempt to fight it. The US state is now set upon wreaking a terrible revenge. That can only encourage further terror attacks in response. There is only one way out of this vicious cycle of state terror and individual counter-terror.
It is building a movement that offers an alternative to the suffering of the impoverished masses. The international anti-capitalist movement that has mushroomed over the last two years offers that hope. It is more vital than ever to throw ourselves into building it.